French farce is bad news for Irish

SIX NATIONS champions France have remained under the radar this autumn with low-profile winning performances against Fiji and Argentina going largely unnoticed. That was before Australia arrived at the Stade de France Saturday night and dismantled their hosts 59-16.

On commentary duty for RTÉ, I had the perfect excuse to cast a watchful eye over two sides that will have a big bearing on Irish rugby fortunes over the next 10 months.

In typical French fashion, coach Marc Lievremont has already deemed Grand Slam backs from last season, Clement Poitrenaud, Mathieu Bastareaud and Vincent Clerc, surplus to requirements for one reason or another. One suspects, after the events of Saturday night, not for much longer.

Even more bizarre has been his treatment of Imanol Harinordoquy, the only European player nominated for this season’s IRB Player of the Year. He has gone from captaining the side in the 34-12 win over Fiji, to bench duty last week against Argentina and didn’t even make the match day squad for the Wallaby game. Boy, was he missed.

From an Irish perspective, after years of being on the receiving end of French misery in Paris, it was incredible to see this carnage unfold. With the contest finely balanced 13-13 at the break, nobody in the massive crowd had any inkling that French rugby was about to experience the worst 40 minutes of their proud rugby history. They lost the second half by a margin of 46-3.

Once the Australians solved their scrum difficulties, they controlled the game. With the bludgeon removed, the French had absolutely nothing to offer. Their defence, the bedrock of the side in recent times and the sole reason for that remarkable victory over New Zealand in the last World Cup, was shredded to pieces with the wondrous Wallaby backline coming of age and scoring at will. They even enjoyed the luxury of holding back Matt Giteau until the final quarter. For the French public, it was embarrassing to watch and they left their feelings known in no uncertain terms on the final whistle.

While Ireland have every reason to look forward to their battle with the French in the forthcoming Six Nations, the worry now is that once this Australian side achieve any form of parity up front, their ever-improving backline is crammed full of gifted runners and line breakers. Ireland have to beat them in the pool stages of next year’s World Cup in order to avoid South Africa at the quarter final stage; at this remove, it’s a task that looks daunting to say the least.

France were a disgrace. The experiment of playing a massive midfield combination of Damien Traille, Yannick Jauzion and Aurelien Rougerie backfired spectacularly as they offered no semblance of an attacking threat. In addition, Jerome Porical was badly exposed at full-back. Once again Lievremont has done French rugby a massive disservice with his crazy selection policy. The saving grace is that Les Bleus have the players to rectify this train crash and surely Lievremont will have no option but to pick them now.

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